We just returned from a fun filled 3 week adventure which started in beautiful Shenandoah National Park where we stayed for three nights. (You can see our entire three week road trip itinerary through New England by clicking here.) We had an amazing time camping and hiking among the jaw dropping views of the Appalachian Mountains. There are four campgrounds located within the park, and we camped in the Loft Mountain campground near a section of the Appalachian Trail. There are countless opportunities for back country camping as well which would make a terrific backpacking trip.
Our visit began with the beautiful scenic ride along part of the famous Skyline Drive. I had read about this drive in National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways, The 300 Best Drives in the U.S. Famous for a reason, there are too many gorgeous views to count and we stopped at each pullout to admire the view on our way to checking in at the campground. The entire scenic drive is 105 miles long so we drove it over several days, finishing it on our way out of the park. We also saw several people biking the trail. Hauling 6 bikes on this trip was too much, but I would LOVE to do this someday!
Loft Mountain campground is about 25 miles into the park from the south entrance and when we arrived at the camp office we checked in easily. The Park Ranger checking us in made sure to let us know about proper food storage as the park is home to hundreds of black bears. We were told to always keep food and cooking items as well as toiletries inside the car with the doors and windows closed. We had reserved site 32a because of the close proximity to the Appalachian Trail which cuts through the park. A short blue blazed trail led to the white blazes of the AT and Sophie, Naomi and I all took beautiful runs along the trail during the mornings we were there. The sites in this section were large with a surrounding grassy area which didn’t allow for much privacy, but did make for soft sleeping. There are several bathrooms throughout the sites with cold running water as well as coin showers and laundry available near the campground entrance. There also is a camp store with a nice selection of camping supplies and convenience foods. Bottles of beer were only a buck at the store which Dave and I enjoyed one evening after a long day of hiking.
There are over 500 miles of hiking trails throughout the park so there are countless beautiful hikes for all abilities. A few of our favorites were Lewis Falls and Dark Hollow Falls which both led to beautiful waterfalls. We also hiked several sections of the AT throughout the park. The hiking was beautiful, full of rolling hills and lovely views.
We loved the diverse wildlife we were lucky to see during our visit. Because of the numerous wildflowers throughout the park, there were many different butterflies flitting among the flowers. Along with several deer, we also saw a large rat snake on the Lewis Falls hike. The most exciting animals we saw were black bears and we were lucky to see several while driving down Skyline Drive. In each case the bears were just hanging out and watching the road. They are such lovely animals and we were so excited to keep seeing them.
If you visit, make sure to take advantage of the Visitor Center and Park Rangers! Always a wealth of information, we interact with Rangers whenever possible during visits to National Park sites and we always learn from them. Our kids enjoyed completing the Junior Ranger Program within the park and we also attended several Ranger led talks. While we didn’t get to do a Ranger led hike, I would have loved to. Several are offered throughout the week and a schedule was given to us when we entered the park.
If you go to Shenandoah National Park:
–The most popular time to visit Shenandoah National Park is in the fall when the leaves change and I imagine it would be a breathtaking time to go because there are so many trees. While it was somewhat crowded in early July along Skyline Drive and the various Waysides, we were practically alone on several trails. Like most National Parks, a short hike is all that is needed to separate yourself from the masses. While the park is open all year, a winter visit would be difficult as Skyline Drive regularly closes due to weather and amenities close for the season.
–There are several Waysides throughout the park which serve diner type fare at somewhat reasonable prices. We cooked our meals and brought picnics on hikes since we were camping, but did enjoy a blackberry milkshake at the Skyland Wayside. Yum!
–Take part in the Junior Ranger Program! But be aware that this was one of only three parks I have been to that charged a fee for the program and patch. At $3 each, it is still a bargain and worth taking part in. In addition, Shenandoah offers a free program for older kids called the Ranger Explorer which is geared towards teens. I didn’t realize this until we were leaving the park, but I think this is a welcome addition to the Junior Ranger program!
Resources for a visit to Shenandoah National Park:
The National Park website is full of good information to plan your visit. I also found Hiking Shenandoah National Park to be a great resource for hiking the park and we used National Geographic Maps- Shenandoah as our hiking map which served us well.
We like to get books for the kids to read prior to visiting a park and they loved Who Pooped in the Park? Shenandoah National Park: Scat and Tracks for Kids which is a fun educational series on park wildlife.